Angie's Leap

My dive into blogging: music, technology, saving money

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No appetite for ‘The Hunger Games’

Thought about renting or buying “The Hunger Games” until I recalled the dark subject matter. Obviously, the film has some merit, given its wild popularity. I understand the book series is a hit as well. The plot description brought to mind Shirley Jackson’s classic short story, The Lottery.

Just wondering what drew folks to see this flick. I like the warm and fuzzy movies ( “ET” is one of my all-time favorites), but I see the merit in dark films. I just have to prepare myself mentally. Someone tricked me into seeing “Silence of the Lambs” (and the thought of certain scenes still gives me the creeps.) It took me months to watch “Schindler’s List” (surprisingly uplifting), “Hotel Rwanda” and “The Last King of Scotland.”

So what’s the deal with “The Hunger Games” ?

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School’s out!

Yesterday, I finished up my last Web design/development course at Computer Training Source in Chicago. I walked away grateful, relieved and happy to be putting my skills to work.  My journey through the program was not what I expected, but I’d recommend it to any “downsized” worker who qualifies. I put “downsized” in quotes because that’s one of the terms I’ve learned is preferable to saying you were laid off. Oh yeah, my program included marketing pointers, too. ( I was listening, Maureen).

Seriously, as copy desks are wiped out in newspapers across the country, marketing has become more important than ever.  I’m told that potential employers equate “laid off” with poor performance, but they understand “downsizing” happens to the best of us.

My tuition at CTS was funded through the federal Workforce Investment Act, and I jumped through plenty of hoops to get into the program. At one WIA orientation, a woman explained that Uncle Sam didn’t have dollars to waste. Folks would get it into their heads that they wanted to go back to school after viewing one of those vocational school commercials from a couch at home, she said. They’d go to school, maybe because they were bored. And many of them would end up right back on that couch in front of the TV. Hence, the rigorous WIA program screening process. That’s fine with me. I’m not trying to be an overeducated couch potato.

One of the steps in securing a government voucher for training is interviewing potential schools. I looked at three. I love the traditional college learning environment, but knew that wouldn’t work when I found a job. I wouldn’t expect a new boss to fit my work schedule around school, and I was determined to finish school. At CTS, I was able to rearrange my classes around a contract job I found shortly after school began.

I went to school two to three days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There were morning and afternoon breaks and a one-hour lunch. Most classes were two-to-four-day sessions ranging from beginning to advanced levels. Learning via the CTS method is 30 percent classroom; 70 percent practice. In a university environment, I’d say I learned 70 percent in the classroom; 30 percent on my own. I was a little unprepared for this reality. I tried to take in as much as I could at once: watching the classroom screen, my computer monitor, following the text, listening, taking notes. Some instructors didn’t mind audio recordings; some did.

Instructor presentations are done via projectors displaying the Windows operating system. On the Mac (students have the option to choose either OS), commands and the screen view are slightly different. Inevitably, I would miss something. This got a bit frustrating, until an instructor gave me this: Think of class as a demo class, like a cooking class. You’re not trying to make the dish with the chef; you’re getting the idea now and cooking it up later. Thanks, Bob.

A few of my takeaways, after 240 classroom hours:

  • Learning a content management system is easy. If you’re  on Facebook, you’ve learned one already; WordPress is another. I worked on a cloud-based one at my old newspaper.  Many of the job ads for editors require experience on a CMS.

  • I don’t want to be a Web developer. I’m a techie, but not that much of a techie. Of course, understanding what MySQL, Javascript and PHP are all about is helpful. I learn best by visualizing how all parts of a system function together. Querying databases isn’t my thing. But I get it.

  • Web design is fun. Web building, not so much.  HTML is the framework for building sites. But using CSS is where things get interesting. CSS is the decoration. I like decorating.  For me, building sites from scratch is like building a house from the ground up. I’d rather pick the furnishings. Programs such as Dreamweaver let you customize to your heart’s content.

  • I ain’t afraid of no code. None of this technical stuff is difficult to learn. It’s the repetition that makes it stick.

All in all, I’d say Uncle Sam didn’t waste his money on me. I have a much deeper understanding of the Internet revolution that’s turned the way we communicate with each other upside down, and I’m a better editor for the training.

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My ringtones are back . . . Yesss!

I’ve mentioned before that I love music, and one of the little ways I enjoy it is by making my own ringtones.  This is no big deal for iPhone users, who now can make ringtones in a snap, but back in the Dark Ages we BlackBerry users didn’t have a place to shop for ringtones, let alone an easy means to make our own.

So I was stuck with canned sounds, while it seemed everybody else had cool ringtones. Until I discovered Audacity, free open-source software for recording and editing sounds.

For non-techie types, making tones on Audacity is a bit much, especially since there are probably easier tools to work with now. But back when I started doing this, the ends more than justified the means. I used the songs I wanted from my music collection, got the snippets I wanted from them, and I didn’t have to pay a dime.

Even though I no longer have my BlackBerry (still like it better than the iPhone, but that’s another story), I still enjoy making my own tones and adding them to whatever no-contract phone I’m carrying at the moment.  Now that my son makes beats, I tote them around on my phone and turn them into tones, too.

I’ve established that a sister will go to some lengths to have her music how she wants it, when she wants it.  So let’s just say I was a little annoyed when out of the blue I started hearing “Verizon Airwaves” instead of Bobby Caldwell when my mom called, perplexed at hearing those same “Airwaves” instead of  Usher when my daughter rang,  and downright angry when my son’s hot beat was replaced with “Airwaves” for all incoming calls.  A disaster, I tell ya.

An investigation revealed that the tones were on my memory card, but the phone just wasn’t reading them. A little Googling  showed me that I could format my card (basically, restore it to factory specs), but that would  also mean erasing all my data. Since my contacts are automatically backed up through an app, and I have copies of my pictures and tones on my computer, I thought this might be the answer.

Then I read that Windows users could format their cards via computer, and I Googled to find out how Mac users could do the same.  That’s when I discovered another wonderful use for Mac’s Disk Utility application.  Here’s what I did: 1) Took the micro SD memory card out of the phone;  2)  Inserted the memory card into a micro SD adapter and inserted the adapter into my Targus card reader/writer; 3)  Inserted the card reader into my laptop’s USB slot; 4) Started up Disk Utility , selected the card reader disk and clicked “Repair Disk”

Et voila!  When I put the memory card back in the phone, the tones were recognized, “Airwaves” were banished, and all was right with my world.

A song in the key of me

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        “But you can bet your life times that and twice its double, that God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed.”

Everyone who knows me well knows I love music. Don’t know what I’d do without it. For the last couple weeks I’ve been hearing Stevie’s jam “As” ringing through my head. And the lyrics of that song have applied to so many aspects of my life lately, it’s stunning.

Take this UNITY conference. It’s no accident that I was blessed with the chance to go network with other journalists in Vegas, practically for free, right after a job contract had ended. Literally, I learned of this opportunity the next day. When He closes a door, He opens a window, indeed.

Fast forward to my Day 2 of the conference. A reporter friend of mine hooked me up with a plethora of options for enjoying Vegas on the cheap. Stomach growling and armed with her list, I hit the Strip.  I got my grub on at the Flamingo hotel’s breakfast buffet. Cheryl, it was as delicious as you described, but for me those buffets are never a bargain because I can rarely make it past seconds. But after walking practically the length of the Strip for a meal, I was as hungry as I would ever be.

The walk there was relatively cool (considering that the temp soared to 114 degrees later that day). Basically, the joggers and I (and Elvis) had the Strip to ourselves in the pre-8 a.m. hour.

The adventure began as I headed back south on the Strip en route to my hotel. Man, was it nice to be able to stop and smell the flowers. I took my time and absorbed everything. Sights. Sounds. Smells. I saw stories everywhere: from the talented street performers in front of the 24-hour Walgreens to the mall where I spent way too much money on bath products.

I did some impromptu interviews and snapped so many photos that I filled up the memory cards on both my camera and cell phone. I wondered if my long-dormant passion for reporting was being reawakened, or whether I was just feeling a rush from shopping. Whatever it was, I wanted to document it and share  it.

I thought about my blog topics: music, technology and saving money. Check, check, check. It was all right in front of me. He does know exactly where he wants you to be placed. Only God could bless me with such a revelation in “Sin City.”

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Leaving Las Vegas

As I stood in line to check into my hotel room at the start of the UNITY 2012 journalism convention, a fellow attendee asked what my expectations were. I replied that I wanted to network.

A couple hours later, the first recruiter I sat down with asked a series of questions about my proficiency in various softwares and then hit me with, “What’s your purpose?” “What’s going to be your legacy?”

He encouraged me to think about what my passions were and how I could explore them to earn a living on my terms instead of fitting into someone’s cookie-cutter job description. He said he didn’t want me to be discouraged because I would likely run into recruiters who were only interested in filling those cookie-cutter roles (the cookie-cutter metaphor is mine, not his). How right he was, I found, as I went over to the very next booth to discuss the status of two job applications I’d filled out online in anticipation of coming to the conference.  I’d filled out these applications namely because they fit my skill set pretty well. But they were online positions for a network, and my focus has been newspaper  journalism, an option I’ve pretty much taken off the table. Well this recruiter went over my resume offering a very constructive critique, before pretty much dismissing me with a smile.

I then told her that I was interested in learning more about a couple of positions I had applied for online. She asked whether I knew the job ID number or some other such identifier for the positions, and I did not. But I told her one was definitely a copy editor position, and I know I can edit the hell out of some copy. (OK, I didn’t curse).  I then whipped out my iPad and found one of the job descriptions I had saved (sans the job ID number, the recruiter helpfully pointed out). I had highlighted in yellow every skill that matched what I can do. The page was practically drenched in yellow. The recruiter perused my page for all of five seconds before mentioning some software not highlighted in yellow. Another dismissive smile. And so it went.

I made stops at a few more booths and had some pretty good conversations at some before the lack of sleep the night before my flight began to take its toll, and I made my way back to my room.  I was so exhausted I never had a meal that day. I woke up famished the next morning, hungry not just for food, but for the answers to that first recruiter’s questions.

This post is titled “Leaving Las Vegas,” and in the days ahead I’ll share some of the soul food I left with.

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Inspiring words

From Alfredo Ayala, Imagineer, Walt Disney

“We all have talent, but who has courage?”

“Have courage to go to that dark place that curiosity takes you.”

“Disruption is innovation.”

“If you’re not failing 80 percent of the time, you’re not pushing hard enough.”

Thought-provoking stuff as I hone in on my purpose, post-newspaper journalism

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Shout-out from UNITY 2012


As many of my journalism colleagues and friends know, I’m attending UNITY 2012, a convention for journalists of color which also now officially represents my gay, lesbian and transgender colleagues. Many thanks to UNITY Executive Director Onica Makwakwa and the rest of the UNITY staff, who generously sponsored my attendance here as a “displaced” journalist. What I know for sure is that I’m at the right place now.

I’m gathering all kinds of useful info that I can’t wait to share (unfortunately, some about technical glitches and other areas where you can learn from my mistakes).

Great pix and posts coming soon,


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Net savings on phone bill

Going through my email this morning, I came across a promotion to refer friends to my home phone service, Ooma. Well friends, consider yourselves referred.

In a nutshell, you spend $160 to $200 up front in exchange for what’s currently a $6 monthly phone bill (pour moi). It’s a VoIP  service, allowing you to make phone calls over the Internet. So you cut the landline cord, but not the Internet one.

I’ve been using VoIP for years now, thanks to a recommendation from a former newspaper colleague (Thanks, Craig). I started off with Vonage, but ditched it after my bill started climbing with an alphabet soup full of government and other surcharges. I came to Vonage after complaining about a $24.99 phone bill that was up to $65 with various taxes and surcharges. I think it’s almost inevitable that sooner or later some taxing body is going to start feasting on your phone bill, so you may as well get in some savings while you can. My Ooma bill was only about $3 when I started the service a couple of years ago (Thanks, Keith). When I signed up, there was a menu on Ooma’s website that let me see what my state’s taxes and other surcharges would be.

“Why bother with a second phone bill at all?” you may ask. I just like having a back-up number. And the cost is definitely cheaper than a traditional landline. I have to say I almost consider traditional phone service a rip-off now, though I do have friends that insist they need a landline (for that fax machine?). Seriously, you can now hook up your home security system to a VoIP service.

Yes, you will lose service if your Internet goes down. With Vonage, I just had my calls forwarded to my cell. Not sure if Ooma offers this service, but it does push an upgrade package that likely offers call forwarding.

Not trying to sound like those Westwood College ads, but what are you waiting for?